Third BQE workshop: Pretty pictures, lots of questions


Brooklyn residents attended a workshop in Downtown Brooklyn Tuesday night to learn about the NYC Department of Transportation’s latest designs to replace the central portion of the Brooklyn- Queens Expressway (BQE).

The rapid-fire presentation covered complex options not only for the crumbling Triple Cantilever but also for a “necklace” of nearby parks, streets and open spaces, and many participants said the issue would take much more study.

This is the third workshop on BQE Central, and the city has locked in on three major design concepts: The Terraces, the Lookout and the Stoop. They all include elaborate — if not over-the-top — landscaping; a likely enlarged Promenade; and stairs, ramps or grassy cascades from the Promenade to Brooklyn Bridge Park. (See DOT website for specifics.)

Two of the designs call for a total tear-down of the retaining wall holding up the existing structure. One design could either involve a total tear-down or a partial teardown, depending on engineering considerations.

A total tear-down and rebuild would take longer and inconvenience the community more, but would last longer when completed, Tanvi Pandya, the DOT’s head engineer on the BQE project said.

Though DOT has promised it would not eliminate the landmarked Promenade (a promise extracted after their widely-condemned “Promenade Highway” proposal), it appears likely that the Promenade would be demolished and then rebuilt in a much wider configuration — or in one case, reshaped as a giant oval viewing deck.

All three designs would require a temporary bypass highway, which would be built west of the existing highway. Julie Bero, NYCDOT Chief Strategy Officer, promised the crowd that the bypass would not be built on top of the Promenade, as the city had originally planned. Numerous engineering issues still need to be decided, including the number of lanes the reimagined BQE Central requires.

Models of three different design options being considered by DOT. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

DOT will be delaying the expected start of the project’s environmental review phase from Spring 2023 to Autumn 2023 to buy time to figure out if the highway segment should have two traffic lanes (plus two shoulders) in each direction, or three.

NYC DOT “is committed to studying both two- and three-lane configurations,” Bero told the audience. While the three concepts presented on Tuesday were shown with only two traffic lanes in each direction, the designs would also work with three, she said.

Pandya added, however, that it would be easier to build a bypass if the two-lane design was followed.

Bero told the Brooklyn Eagle after the workshop that politics would not influence DOT’s decision regarding the number of traffic lanes.

“We’re a data-driven agency and think about safety, so we will have to use those values to move forward. There’s always politics, but we have to move above it and do what’s right for the community,” she said.

Numerous engineering and environmental studies — including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 BQE Expert Panel report, the 2020 Arup/NYC City Council report, and the Regional Planning Association’s 2019 Reimagining the BQE report, recommend slimming the BQE from three lanes in each direction (plus shoulder ) to two in each direction.

A ‘necklace’ of parks

Presenters also quickly ran through extensive designs involving total rebuilds of nearby parks, streets and pedestrian areas, including Columbia Heights, Squibb Park and Chapin Park; Old Fulton Street and Anchorage Plaza; Ash Alley and Anchorage Plaza West; and DUMBO and Manhattan Bridge Parks. Designers said the goal was to create a “necklace” of parks and pedestrian spaces.

Atlantic Avenue and Van Vorhees Park was left out of the Tuesday presentation. DOT said that the design partners would need more time to come up with a better approach. A Cobble Hill contingent cheered when they heard the news.

Officials emphasized access to park and open space in their official comments.

“These bold concepts reflect the wealth of feedback we’ve received from New Yorkers on how they want to reimagine BQE Central, with beautiful public spaces, safer bike and pedestrian connect- ions, and improved access to local parks,” said DOT Commissioner Rodriguez.

Mayor Eric Adams said in his statement that his administration was taking “a bold approach, repairing a crumbling eyesore and delivering transformational open space to residents and visitors alike.”

His comment emphasizing transformational open space was slightly different from his comment in December, when he said, “We have a once-in-a- generation opportunity to build a BQE for the 21st century and transform an environmental and aesthetic nightmare into a dream come true for our city.”

Area already has a lot of park space

Some residents and officials questioned the emphasis on increasing park and open space in the BQE Central area, rather than reducing the number of lanes and air pollution along the entire BQE corridor.

“I think the Department of Transportation presented some beautiful images tonight but it’s still very much a highway with negligible capping or tunneling that will continue to have significant impacts on our neighborhood,” said Councilmember Lincoln Restler. (Greenpoint – Brooklyn Heights) “There are open questions on the number of lanes, and I’m concerned about the lack of commitment to reduce the number of lanes of traffic from this ad- ministration.

“Every single elected official who represents the BQE from Sunset Park to Greenpoint has expressed strong support for a two-lane solution on this project,” Restler added. “And I hope the mayor and the Department of Transportation get on board. There is no other acceptable solution than to maintain two lanes of traffic on this project.”

“It’s a little disappointing to not see anything rendered for Zone 5, which is Atlantic Avenue to Congress Street,” said Cobble Hill resident and former President of the Cobble Hill Association Amy Breedlove. “But they said tonight that the reason we’re not seeing that is they’re really looking at some innovative ideas with feedback they’ve gotten about safety issues, mobility issues and the reconnecting of the park. So, this could be a very positive thing.”

“We want the two lanes, and we want the two lanes to extend down to the trench,” she said.

“It is a little overwhelming,” said Brooklyn Heights Association President Koren Volk. “The DOT has done a lot of work to pull this presentation together. I think we had a good discussion at our table in the breakout session. We want to see a commitment that this project will meet the city’s sustainability goals. And they have not been clear about what the construction process would look like or how disruptive it would be for us.”

“I do believe that DOT is making a very sincere serious effort and they have done that through the effort to include two-lane options, but the real point of the two-lane option is to push the roadway away from people, make it smaller, make it less of a presence,” said Heights resident and member of the BQET coalition Patrick Killackey.

He added, “I think we need a lot more information. I’m sure DOT itself needs more information on what the construction impacts are of the partial rebuild versus the full rebuild. Regarding the Promenade, The Stoop plan is quite large and I know there’s been some concern about that. The Promenade is more of an intimate space.”

He added, “And this area already has a lot of park space, doesn’t it?”

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